10 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to Grand Canyon

10 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to Grand Canyon

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  1. Before you head for Arizona on your classic American road trip to see Grand Canyon National Park, there are a few things you should know about your destination.

    1. You are probably headed for the canyon’s South Rim.

    2. There are actually three rims. The South Rim, where you are probably going, is the rim that hosts the majority of the park’s five million annual visitors (NPS). The photos of spectacular multicolored vistas that you remember from the textbooks and brochures were likely taken here. It is also the easiest to get to, and it has the most in terms of services and conveniences.  The sheer number of visitors means that solitude is something you will probably not find if you are headed for the South Rim.

    If a quiet, peaceful time communing with nature is what you are seeking, the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, with its drastically lower number of visitors and remote feeling, is a destination worth considering. The roads to the North Rim are treacherously caked with snow and ice during the winter months, but driving just a little further to the North Rim in the springtime is well worth the effort. Whereas the South Rim is known for its colorful desert-like landscape, hiking along the North Rim provides great views of the river while you are surrounded by pine forest.

    Finally, if you are imagining yourself in a daredevil pose on the Grand Canyon Skywalk, you are imagining yourself at the West Rim. The West Rim is actually not a part of Grand Canyon National Park. Although you are still in Arizona while visiting the West Rim, you are a guest of the Hualapai Nation. For this reason, the best way to experience the West Rim is via a package tour, which takes care of the required permissions and permits. An added bonus is that the bumpy ride down an unpaved road to Eagle Point, the Skywalk and other places of interest is done by someone else’s vehicle, saving wear and tear on yours! Note that there are no cameras allowed on the Skywalk.

    3. Depending which part of the Grand Canyon you visit, you will be in the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert, or a pine forest. The pine trees of the Grand Canyon are the ponderosa and pinyon pine depending on your elevation. The Sonoran Desert is the only desert in the world where the Saguaro cactus is a native species.

    4. The wildlife of the Grand Canyon is as diverse as the climate and flora. Of note are elk, black bears, and mountain lions.

    5. Each rim at the Grand Canyon has various options for lodging. The most common choice for lodging at the West Rim is the Hualapai Ranch, a western-themed village with rooms to let. The North Rim has camping, hotel, and cabin lodging available in season, which runs from mid-May to mid-October. Room rates range between $100-200 per night depending on which room or cabin option you choose. The South Rim, as expected, offers a full range of accommodation options from backcountry (with permit) to campground to cabin to cooshy lodge, all year round.

    6. All three rims offer shuttle bus transportation, with the North Rim shuttle buses only operational in season. The South Rim is really the only rim where you can drive yourself around in your own car with wreckless abandon any day of the year.

    7. The West Rim is your best choice for fry bread, in the little cafe at the Skywalk exit. The South Rim offers a full array of culinary options such as you would find in any national park. The North Rim offers limited options for eating during the open season.

    8. The most difficult decisions involved in any trip to the Grand Canyon are those that involve managing your time. If you only have a few hours to stop and look around, a drive or shuttlebus ride to the lookout points to take photos may be your only option. With a day to spend, you increase your choices and can follow hiking trails below the rims. Without a doubt, you could spend an unlimited amount of time exploring the South Rim.

    9. Regardless of which travel option you choose, remember that you will either be in high elevations or in the desert, or both. Do not forget to pack plenty of water, one gallon per person per day if you’ll be hiking, snacks, sunscreen and a first aid kit, at the least.

    10. In accordance with the values of the national park system, Grand Canyon National Park, and (if applicable) the Hualapai Nation…

    …take only photos, and leave only footprints.

    Happy Travels!

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